civics, government, politics

The “Alt” Reality of American Conservatism – Part 1 “Personal Responsibility”

One of the presumed core beliefs of American conservatism is the belief in “personal responsibility” (1). At face value, this seems an uncontroversial statement. It suggests that an individual who does wrong should publicly own his actions and it implies that the individual should then accept the consequences that result from said actions (2).  A major issue with this, and a common problem with conservative viewpoints in general, is that this idealized statement is at odds with reality.

This viewpoint presupposes that there are no variables at play except the individuals own pre meditated thoughts and actions. Thankfully, this is an easy statement to cast doubt on. If I suddenly go to strike you in the face with my fist, your hands are going to fly up, your body will move, and your breath and heart rate will change – all without your conscious mind involved. This is proof that an external stimulus can cause a reaction that is outside of an individual’s control.

I submit that systemic racism works in essentially the same way. In the U.S. racism “continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality” (3). It is found in every aspect of our society and disturbingly, racially motivated hate crimes seem to be on the rise in the U.S. (4). I think it is easy for the privileged to be oblivious to how the system is stacked against the minority; this perhaps explains why the majority of conservatives are white. (13.7 % of African Americans identify as conservative) (5). In any case, American whites benefit from a system that kills blacks disproportionately (2.5 times more often killed by police than whites) (6), jails blacks disproportionately (6 times the rate of whites) (7) and pays blacks disproportionately – the pay gap is abhorrent (whites make 26.7 % more than blacks) (8), and on and on.

I believe that it is safe to say that the volume of data from innumerable sources should convince any average observer that racism and discrimination in the US is real.

Let’s take a short detour to explore the possible reasons why this is, and then we will circle back to my original point about “personal responsibility”.

One popular (and incredibly wrong) theory to explain this rift between blacks and white comes from the pseudo-science of eugenics (9) which portrayed blacks as having inferior genetic stock. So, those that ignore biological reality will blame the disparity between black and white on “inferior genes”.  Not one characteristic, trait, or gene distinguishes all members of one so-called race from all members of another so-called race. (10).

Another popular argument is that minorities are immoral (or arguably lazy), as suggested in this article on “Conservatives believe that the way to a better world is almost always through moral improvement of the individual” (11).

In the 1920’s white scientists justified their racist behaviors through the administration of “intelligence tests” that proves that whites were intellectually superior to blacks. (12) This practice continued for decades.

And on and on. To be non-white in America is to be disenfranchised from birth. This is why I refute the simplistic and naïve stance on “personal responsibility”.

I don’t mean to suggest that one shouldn’t be taking responsibility for their actions. They most certainly should. But it is important to point out that things related to humans are rarely simple. Although we may be living though a “post-truth” era, we are definitely not living through a “post-racist” era.

Daniel Cashman, EAMP, MS(AOM), NCCAOM Dipl. of Acupuncture


















2 thoughts on “The “Alt” Reality of American Conservatism – Part 1 “Personal Responsibility”

  1. mateo says:

    very interesting reflection. personal responsibility is indeed a key value in society, and has been for a long time. I like to take a look at the history of ideas and where they originated, with the only purpose to have some more tools to understand what they evolved into and where they may be heading to. As you say, “personal responsibility” is now a days a conservative cornerstone, but I can argue it is not originally a conservative conception. It has many roots in protestant ethics in central,northern Europe way back in the catholic reform that understood “work” as a sacred duty to society and god (check out max weber). Work as the means to salvation. Later on, people from those places that decided to go to america carried those cultural beliefs with them. Jumping ahead to late 19 and early 20 century, the protestant ethic secularised even more and found a great match with the expanding and consolidating capitalist economic system, and their combination is, in many ways, what brought us the system we live in now.
    Anyway, what I’m trying to say in way too many words, is that your argument that such thought is at odds with reality is right on point. The idea of racism and genetics (and science) is very relevant, check out Troy Duster. My only doubt is about conservatism, and I say that because I feel that it is as embedded in conservative as it is in liberal (mainstream) thought. Thank you for a refreshing, objective, and honest view on these things and I hope to keep reading more of your ideas on these issues.

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